We know what happened a few days later. Jesus was killed on a cross. He died and was laid in a tomb. And a couple of days later, God raised Jesus from the tomb and Jesus met those timid, frustrated, depressed and lonely disciples in that upper room ALIVE! He made appearances to them and to other disciples many times until he led them 40 days after his resurrection to the Mount of Olives. (That famous view of Jerusalem we see so often in photographs and on the news is from the Mount of Olives.) And there Jesus departed from them. He was never to be seen again the way those disciples had seen him.
And that brings us to the First Lesson for today. Luke, who is not only the author of the Gospel that bears his name but also the author of the Acts of the Apostles, brings us back again to that upper room. The eleven disciples were there as was Jesus mother, Mary and about 120 others. (It must have been a pretty big room!) They found themselves again in an in-between situation. Jesus was gone. The angels had told them that Jesus would return some day but they were not to know when that “someday” would be. And Jesus had told them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Now, you know what it’s like to be told to wait. Children get very disturbed when a parent tells them to wait for something. Adults are not any better when they know they have to wait for something – especially something important. (I have waited for almost 17 years for this day to happen. 17 years ago, the ELCA told me I had to leave my vocation as a pastor. And I have waited and jumped through all the administrative hoops since the ELCA changed its policy concerning gay pastors in August 2009 to get to this day to be able to be among you as a minister of Word and Sacrament.) Wait! It’s even more frustrating to be told to wait when you are part of a group. Just think about the last time you were stuck in traffic; or on a crowed plane waiting to take off on the tarmac; or in one of those long lines at an amusement park. Waiting is hard.
So, Peter, not being one who waits for something to happen easily, addresses the crowd to say something had to be done about the Judas matter. You see, there had been 12 of them. That biblical number must have been important to Jesus. After all, Jesus had chosen 12 to be his closest disciples. He must have chosen 12 because there were 12 tribes of Israel. And so Peter suggested that someone – someone who had been hanging around them since the day of Jesus’ baptism by John - someone who had seen the Risen Jesus – someone should take the place of Judas. They narrowed it down to 2. They rolled the dice (that’s what casting lots means). And Matthias was chosen.
Those are the historical facts. But scripture is not given to us just to get history right. And we are not here today just to be told some Bible stories. We are here, whether we like it or not, to hear the Word take flesh. To be fed by a heavenly feast at this table. And we are here today so that today, and tomorrow, and every day of our lives we will make a difference for the sake of the world.
Just like those frustrated, depressed, fear-filled, lonely disciples in that upper room, the prospect of God using us to make a difference in the world seems far-fetched. How many times haven’t we wondered why Jesus didn’t just stay in this world? Wouldn’t the world be so much better off if the resurrected Christ were still visibly among us? Why doesn’t God just take control of this world and make things right all the time?
Listen to these very wise words from Methodist pastor James Howell:
“Let’s be clear: God doesn’t sow cancer cells in people’s bodies;
God doesn’t crash planes into buildings; God doesn’t prescribe
one child to live under a bridge while so many others are in soft
beds. God is not in control. Or let’s say, God does not choose
to be in control – because God is love, and love just can’t or won’t
control….God could have made us like marionettes, so God could
manipulate us and everything to suit God. But God yearns for our
love, and cuts the strings, risking the wounds Jesus was about to incur
when he prayed for us.”
And that returns us to take a closer look at that High Priestly Prayer in today’s Gospel. Jesus knows that the chosen ones were going to be frustrated and lonely and confused and afraid and so, in their hearing, Jesus prays for them. And what does Jesus pray?
“I have made your name known to those you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. They know that everything you have given me is from you…….they believe that you sent me.” They were fishermen, a tax collector, ordinary people – not biblical scholars, not the upper crust by any means. But they get the idea that the Jesus who had spent three years among them teaching, preaching and healing is meshiach, Christos, anointed one, Son of God. They believe that Jesus and the Father are One. And we are here today to confess that we believe too. We may not be able to explain the intricacies of the Holy Trinity but we believe that Jesus is God.
Next, Jesus prays: “Now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world…….Holy Father, protect them……so that they may be one, as we are one……and so that they may have my joy made complete .” During all those times when Jesus was challenged by Jewish authorizes and his own family; during those times when the Pharisees accused him of forsaking the laws of Moses to help the undesirable; during those times when his disciples deserted him; during his trial and his crucifixion, Jesus knew that he was One with the Father. And now, in their own hearing, Jesus prays that they will know the joy of being one with him, one with the Father, and one with each other. “Sanctify them in the truth!” Make them holy in their knowledge and in their faith. Holiness, however, is not a separation from the world but an immersion into the world. Jesus prays for us too this very day that we will be sanctified, made holy so that we may be immersed into our world.
Jesus prays that in that one, holy faith they and we might continue his ministry in the world. Not of the world but in the world, they and we are to be the presence of Christ. St. Teresa of Avila said: “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world; yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”
We have listened to Jesus pray in our very midst. Jesus, Word made flesh, knew and knows the world’s challenges, its disappointments, even its hostility. We may not be happy with certain aspects of this world, but this is where we are and this is what we have. At times we may feel betrayed by political leaders or even by the church, and we may be disappointed by those with whom we are in community, but we will never be betrayed by or disappointed in God. We have a God who loves us, a redeemer who prays for us, and we have one another.
Remember the view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives? Well, at the top of the Mount of Olives today stands Augusta Victoria Hospital. Built more than a century ago by German Lutherans, it provides the best medical care available to the Arabs of metropolitan Jerusalem. And a portion of your offering today, combined with those of Lutherans from around the world, supports that hospital. A little piece of you continues Jesus’ healing ministry. We need to look for all the opportunities the Spirit puts in our path to bring Christ to our homes, our communities, and our world.
So with that faith; with that joy and strength; with that holiness and truth; what small acts of love can you do that will make a difference in the life of just one person? What words of comfort? What stand for justice? What careful act for creation? What gift of the Spirit do you have to offer to the world? Jesus is counting on us.